The nationalists in Scotland lost, but the country and democracy won. Europe can breathe a huge sigh of relief, writes DW's Bernd Riegert from Edinburgh.
It was a highly emotional cliffhanger right to the end whether Scotland would vote for independence from the United Kingdom or not. In the end political common sense won out over nationalist passions - and with a larger margin than the pundits had predicted.
Scotland can be congratulated for this decision because the other outcome would have been an adventure with grave consequences for Britain and its European neighbors.
As an independent country, Scotland would have been without the protection of the United Kingdom and the solidarity of the European Union.
For its part, Britain would have had to redefine its role in Europe and the world and possibly could have crumbled as a nation.
The last thing Europe needs is a return to the small-minded nation states of past centuries. On the contrary, what's needed is cooperation and integration at the European level.
The Scots, unlike the rest of the British, are more Europe-friendly. The 'yes' camp wanted to remain in the EU. It would have been an ironic twist of history if Scotland were to be forced to leave the EU in a few year's time when Britain holds a referendum on EU membership. One can only hope on this point, too, that common sense prevails and that Britain and Scotland choose to remain in the EU.
The next test will be House of Commons elections in Britain next spring in which EU membership will play a major role. The outcome of Thursday's referendum in headstrong Scotland will surely have an effect. Had Scotland chosen independence, Prime Minister David Cameron would have had to resign immediately. Now, he has the opportunity until the May 2015 vote to confront the anti-European sentiments of his electorate.
The Scots are not oppressed in Britain, as the 'yes' camp claimed in its independence campaign. Conservative governments, especially that of Margaret Thatcher, were a bane for predominately social-democratic Scotland, but the Scots also had prime ministers in Downing Street.
Today, the average income in Scotland is higher than in other parts of Britain and unemployment is lower. Scotland has a strong regional government and its own parliament - and it will gain new rights in the forseeable future. In a flight of panic toward the end of the referendum campaign, Prime Minister Cameron promised as much, and now he will have to deliver.
In Britain, a real debate about establishing a federal system is long overdue with calls for regional autonomy coming from other quarters, like England and Wales, as well.
September 18 has changed Great Britain. Scotland, too, has changed. The referendum was a triumph for democracy. 86 percent of eligible voters participated - a record. No sign of political fatigue: The Scots, whether for or against independence, demonstrated an exemplary commitment to the cause. The referendum's big loser, Alex Salmond, accepted defeat. The winners did not crow about their victory. Both sides want to form a united "Team Scotland" to take advantage of the energy set free by the campaign.
This democratic mindset should serve as a model for other independence movements in Europe and elsewhere because it illustrates how democracy and enthusiasm for the democratic process works.
Scotland has shown that national sentiments do not have to lead to destructive nationalism. As a result, all Scotland won, even if the dream of independence failed to materialize.